Thoughts On This Week’s 2nd Round Playoff Games
September 6th, 2020
by Alan Lu
It’s been an exciting week of basketball. There have been so many twists and turns in the playoffs, and there have been magical endings to the playoff games. I’m not sure if many fans could have predicted Miami winning the first 3 games of their 2nd Round series against Milwaukee, or the Bucks winning Game 4 in overtime without Giannis in the lineup, but it’s good to see that the playoff games have been very competitive across the board.
In Game 3 of the Boston-Toronto series, Toronto Raptors’ star point guard, Kyle Lowry threw a terrific pass over the Boston Celtics’ 7-5 rookie center Tacko Fall to get the ball to OG Anunoby, and Anunoby made a big-time corner three over Jaylen Brown to get Toronto both the Game 3 win and some new life in this series. Then, the Raptors managed to win Game 4 to even the series at 2-2 apiece. The Raptors are a very good team, and the defending champions are too good of a team to get down to being in a 3-0 hole, so it’s a testament to their strong system and perseverance that they were able to climb out of a deficit to win Games 3 and 4.
In addition, it’s been interesting to watch the Miami Heat-Milwaukee Bucks’ series. Milwaukee struggled mightily in the first three games, but I always felt they were due for a victory in this series, and they were able to get a stunning Game 4 overtime win without Giannis playing down the stretch. It’s kind of baffling that the Bucks have been so bad with Giannis in the first 3 ½ games, but they played their best basketball with him off the floor. Khris Middleton was being the shot creator as he became their team’s best player, and Donte DiVincenzo was suddenly making big shots by scoring on timely threes, and he was aggressive in taking the ball to the hoop, as he drew free throws late in this game. Brook Lopez has also played well, and he’s excelled as a floor-spacing shooting big man to help his team on offense.
It’s also worth noting that Miami’s offense stalled considerably down the stretch, and Jimmy Butler was unable to provide consistent scoring like he had in previous games. The normally stellar player really tried to force up some difficult shots in this game, which led him to lose the ball once, and he also threw up an air-ball late in regulation. Milwaukee seemed to shoot and defend better, and also get better ball movement to win Game 4 in order to stay alive in this series. For Miami to close out this series to advance to the next round, they will need to do a better job of defending Milwaukee, and Jimmy Butler will need to make his shots down the stretch.
It may also be concerning that the Bucks’ only win in this series to date came when they were able to outscore Miami in overtime with Giannis off the floor, because if Giannis is fully healthy in Game 5 and Milwaukee ends up losing that game, the Bucks could perhaps end up feeling the pressure to fire head coach Mike Budenholzer, which would be unfortunate, because he’s helped the Bucks become a viable contender, and he’s helped the Bucks win many regular season games. That hasn’t translated to much playoff success yet for him, but his team’s stunning Game 4 victory gives the Bucks hope that the impossible of winning four straight games in a playoff series, could may be still within the realm of possibility.
It’s mind-boggling that NBA teams have really struggled to get big men going in the playoffs, as we’ve seen Joel Embiid really struggle in Philly’s series with Boston, but it also may mean that Miami really knows how to shut down and limit the effectiveness of opposing big men from other teams. But the NBA game seems to also be radically different than the college game. The pace is much faster, players shoot far more threes, and big men have had more freedom to shoot threes and to handle the basketball. In the college game, slow paced teams can win titles, as Virginia was the slowest paced team in 2019, and Duke won the national title centered around a low post scorer in Jahlil Okafor in 2015, but Okafor so far is only a rotational big man for the New Orleans Pelicans off the bench, while his other peers such as Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Kristaps Porzingis have gone on to become NBA All-Stars for other teams.
For Milwaukee to have the best chance to win the title, they have to figure out a way to win with Giannis on the court in crunch time, though their Game 4 victory may be an encouraging sign, as they were able to make plays in crunch time without him. If they can move the ball as well as they did in Game 4, and successfully find a way to get Giannis and Khris Middleton and the role players to play well and cohesively, they could build off their win to make this a really competitive series against Miami.
The Los Angeles Lakers-Houston Rockets’ series has been interesting, as it’s more of a David vs. Goliath sort of matchup. The Rockets were able to win big in Game 1, and they really landed a big punch there. They shot the ball really well, gave the Lakers’ big men fits with their speed and shooting ability, and LeBron and AD were strangely ineffective in the first game. As fun as it was to watch Game 1 of that series, I’ll have to admit though, that game just didn’t seem to make much sense to me. Sure, the Lakers were playing too many big guys and were too slow to defend shooters out on the perimeter, but LeBron and AD are too good to let their team lose the series.
It seemed that the Lakers were almost headed that way again in Game 2 when LeBron, Anthony Davis, and company took over in the fourth. The Lakers went small as they decided to not play JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard as many minutes, and they went to two small guards in Caruso and Rondo, a wing player, LeBron, and AD as their lineup late in the game.
This gave the Lakers the speed to guard Houston’s players out on the perimeter, and also allowed them to quickly attack the basket to score both off of drives and in transition. LeBron James and Anthony Davis took over, and they took care of business like they were supposed to do. Westbrook and Houston’s role players meanwhile, missed plenty of shots and turned the ball over frequently, and the Lakers were able to even the series at 1-1 against the Rockets.
Head coach Frank Vogel made a good adjustment this time for the Lakers, and he’s put himself back in an advantageous situation where the Lakers could get the momentum they need to win more games and to close out the series if they can keep playing this well against Houston. For Houston, they’ll need Russell Westbrook to make shots, as they’ll need him to shoot better and to draw more free throws, and they’ll need their players to make more open threes and to defend better. They gave up a lot of open driving lanes and fast break opportunities, and they’ll need to do a better job of preventing the Lakers from getting quick scores. I thought James Harden has played well in both games, and while I expect the Lakers to win this series against the Rockets, I think it will be a very fun and entertaining series to watch.